Wendell Willkie has been characterized as the "Immortal Amateur." In this respect, Willkie's role in American history is fascinating. He was an amateur in business and was not a politician in the usual sense of the Word. Willkie was both an unusual man and an unusual candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1940.
In 1918, Willkie wanted to run for Congress on the Democratic ticket. He asked a friend and old Indiana politician, Frank C. Dailey, whether he should enter the political arena. Dailey, according to Joseph Barnes, a Willkie biographer, told him in all frankness: "I think you are the God-damndest stupidest man in Indiana. Sure you'll win, with a war record. But you'll lose your practice. And you'll come back after a couple of years and be just another political lawyer in an Indiana county seat. Listen, Wendell, you've got to go places." What had made Dailey tell Willkie that he should not run for Congress? The answer to this question is buried in Willkie's formative years.
Wendell Willkie was a second-generation American, and family background was very influential in shaping his thinking. His four grandparents had been refugees from Germin oppression. Given this family history, Willkie could scarcely avoid being molded in a free-lance tradition. His grandparents settled in Elwood, Indiana, and it was there that Wendell was born in 1892. Both of his parents were lawyers, and it is generally believed that his mother was the first woman ever admitted to the Indiana Bar.
Willkie followed in his parents' footsteps and entered Indiana University. Before he received a degree he had harvested wheat in Minnesota, dressed tools in Texas oil fields, operated a cement block machine in Wisconsin, picked vegetables in California, and taught school in Kansas. These experiences were valuable additions to those which he had while still at home. In his college career proper he was an out-